Ahad, 17 Julai 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Finding that perfect ending

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 01:03 AM PDT

Big Love creators say the HBO show about polygamy told all the stories they wanted to tell.

FOR a while there, it seemed as though the American television series about a polygamous family, Big Love, had lost its way with over-the-top storylines and soap-opera antics. Cast member Chloe Sevigny even reportedly called the fourth season "awful".

The drama revolves around Mormon Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Incidentally, Sevigny won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Season Three of the series last year.

Speaking over the telephone from Los Angeles, series creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer, both in their late 40s, clear the air with regard to the criticism.

Olsen says: "I put my foot in my mouth all the time. She had problems with the season, she thought there was too much story and that's a very valid point of view."

Scheffer adds: "Chloe is one of our best friends, and when that whole brouhaha came out, she called us in tears and was so upset, we felt bad for her."

It seems like all that is water under the bridge now. Olsen says: "She thinks the fifth year is the best year of the show."

At the end of Season Four, Henrickson was elected as the Republican state senator for Utah, and in the new season, the family has to deal with the fallout of being outed for practising polygamy.

When the show was first pitched, Olsen says: "We had to explain and indicate to HBO that there was a way of telling this material and these stories that wasn't icky, that wasn't disgusting." As Scheffer puts it: "We always felt that it was a show about marriage times three. That was always the way we saw it – about family and marriage, through the lens of polygamy."

There were also run-ins with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints early on as polygamy had been suspended by the church since the 1980s.

Olsen notes: "The Mormon church was extremely hostile to the show when it first aired. They were terrified we were digging up history they didn't want to be associated with and there was a boycott of the show."

On the other hand, the show was embraced by many Mormons and ex-Mormons as "it got to American culture and Mormon culture in a way that was satirical and fun."

Nevertheless, Olsen and Scheffer realised it was time to end the series.

Olsen says: "We began Season Five and realised we were getting close to telling all the stories we wanted to tell. We said what we had to say about fundamentalism, partriarchy and women.

"We didn't want to tread water and fill up space for another year, we wanted to go out strong."

The challenge was to find that perfect ending. Olsen says: "We respected intellectually how The Sopranos ended but we didn't find it emotionally satisfying. We really wanted to have a profound emotional catharsis at the end of our five years and I think we have that."

The acclaimed HBO mobster series The Sopranos ended in 2007 with an ambiguous and controversial blackout shot, leaving viewers debating what really happened to the lead character.

Now that Big Love has ended, Olsen and Scheffer are working on a new show for HBO. The only thing that Olsen reveals is that it has "significant Asian content".

As partners in life as well as in work, Olsen quips: "There is no separation between home and work."

Scheffer says: "We are together all the time, we work a lot of the time and then you have to find some way of shutting off.

"We have a great deal of faith in each other's talent and opinions and ultimately, we feel we make each other better people and artistes when we're together." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Big Love Season Five will be premiering on HBO (Astro Ch 411) in September.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

What happens to markets if the US defaults?

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 06:10 PM PDT

NEW YORK (AP) - Time is running out for Washington to raise the country's borrowing limit and avoid a default. Wall Street isn't panicking yet. But if the unthinkable happens, a default could strike financial markets like an earthquake.

"If we just get higher longer-term interest rates, we'd be lucky," said John Briggs, Treasury strategist at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

What might markets look like after a default?

The tremors from even a short-lived default could take unpredictable paths. Stocks, bonds and the dollar would likely plummet in the immediate aftermath.

There's wide agreement among economists that a default would drive up borrowing costs for everybody. U.S. Treasury yields act like a floor for other lending rates, so raising them makes it more expensive for Americans to take out mortgages, for corporations to finance new spending and for local governments to borrow.

But analysts say predicting exactly how a default would play out in stocks, bonds and currency in the hours and days following the Aug. 2. debt ceiling deadline is practically impossible.

"If I were to draw a flow chart, it becomes so complex it's impossible to analyze the impact of a default," said Guy LaBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

When pressed, investors say the immediate aftermath could look like the financial crisis in September 2008. Stocks would lead the way down.

In the month following Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, for instance, the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 28 percent.

Gold may offer some refuge. Fear has driven traders into precious metals in droves in recent years, but gold is at a record $1,594 an ounce, without taking inflation into account.

But two places where traders usually hide -- the dollar and U.S. Treasurys -- are likely to sink as the world's investors flee the U.S. There would be few places to hide.

A deeper fear is that a default could freeze the short-term lending markets that keep money moving throughout the global financial system.

Treasurys and other government-backed debt are widely as used collateral for loans in these markets.

A default and a downgrade of U.S. debt by rating agencies would shake the trust in that collateral, Briggs said.

Lenders could respond by demanding borrowers to post more collateral, forcing them to sell other investments to meet those demands.

A similar selling cycle spread turmoil across markets when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008.

But the fallout from a U.S. default could be much worse.

"I don't even want to think of the ripple effects," Briggs said.

Indeed, most analysts agree that if the world's largest economy reneges on its debts, the consequences would be catastrophic.

That's why so far they've trusted Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama to reach a deal.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke certainly drew a dire picture in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

He said a default would be a "calamitous outcome" and "create a severe financial shock."

The global financial system relies on Treasurys, backed by the world's largest economy and long considered one of the world's safest bets.

"A default on those securities would throw the financial system potentially into chaos," Bernanke said.

The widespread selloff that might trigger could have one benefit, Briggs and others say.

Panic-selling might force Washington to quickly agree to raise the debt limit.

Think back to September 2008 for some historical perspective.

After the House of Representatives voted down the bailout bill to create the Troubled Asset Relief Program on Sept. 29, the Dow Jones industrial average nosedived 777 points.

Congress made an about face and four days later passed the TARP bill. President George W. Bush quickly signed it into law.

"We're setting up for a TARP-like moment," said Neil Dutta, U.S. economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. "The politicians don't come to a resolution, but the market forces a resolution."

Traders are still banking on a deal to increase the borrowing limit before the Aug. 2 deadline.

That's one reason stocks and bond yields have remained relatively stable thus far, even after Moody's and Standard & Poor's warned they may soon take away the country's top credit rating.

"What would shock is if Washington failed to beat the deadline," said Tony Crescenzi, market strategist at Pimco. Crescenzi and other investors believe the negotiations could drag on until the last minute.

Markets would likely greet a deal with a "relief rally," analysts say. The effect would be the reverse of a default: Stocks, corporate bonds and the dollar all jump.

"The market will react well to it," said David Kelly, chief market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds. Kelly said a deal would lift the uncertainty hanging over investors, especially those too worried to buy stocks now.

After President Bush signed the TARP into law in 2008, for instance, the Dow made large jumps, adding as many as 946 points in a week.

When Washington finally agrees to raise the debt ceiling, Treasurys could drop because investors would be more willing to take risks in other investments, Kelly said. That's how they normally trade: Good economic news pushes Treasury prices down and yields up.

The relief may not last long. If the agreement leads to deep spending cuts, Wall Street economists say it will likely drag down economic growth.

Similarly, in late 2008, the wild gains evaporated as the financial crisis took hold. The S&P bottomed out in March 2009.

Federal spending makes up 8 percent of gross domestic product, a broad measure of the economy.

Goldman Sachs economists estimate that a deal to cut $2 trillion in spending could take 0.8 percentage points off economic growth next year.

The bank already predicts modest real GDP growth of 3.1 percent in 2012. Knock off a quarter of that and the economy won't look much better than it does now.

Latest business news from AP-Wire

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Samsung LED seeks US import ban on Osram products

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 05:50 PM PDT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - A Samsung unit is raising the ante in a patent dispute with a German rival over energy-saving LED lighting amid intensifying legal disputes among global companies jockeying for supremacy in key consumer technologies.

Samsung LED Co. said Sunday that it asked the United States International Trade Commission on Friday to bar products of Osram GmbH and two units from entering the U.S.

Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung LED said it also filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware alleging infringement of its LED patents, seeking unspecified damages.

Samsung LED is targeting Osram, Osram Opto Semiconductors and Osram Sylvania Inc. in the actions. Munich-based Osram GmbH is a unit of German industrial engineering giant Siemens AG. Osram Sylvania is Osram's North American operation based in Danvers, Massachusetts.

Last month, Samsung LED sued Osram Korea Co. and two local companies that sell its products in South Korea in retaliation for what is said were suits by Osram at the USITC, in the Delaware court and in Germany.

"Samsung LED intends to vigorously enforce its intellectual property rights, and these lawsuits reflect Samsung LED's commitment to that enforcement," the company said in a release.

"Osram is well prepared regarding possible actions by Samsung," said Stefan Schmidt, Osram's head of media relations.

Samsung LED is alleging infringement of eight patents covering what it calls "core" LED technologies used in products such as lighting, automobiles, projectors, mobile phone screens and TVs.

Semiconductor-based LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are becoming increasingly popular for their durability and energy-saving capability.

Samsung LED also suggested it could expand the scope of the USITC case.

"As new information becomes available it will continue to evaluate the potential to add additional parties who may be importing, using or selling the accused Osram LEDs in the U.S. market," the company said in the release.

Samsung LED was established in 2009 as a joint venture between Samsung Electronics Co. and Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co.

Such complaints and lawsuits over patents are common in the global technology industry and seldom lead to market disruptions as disputes take months or years to resolve and typically end with payments of licensing fees rather than import bans.

Still, they highlight the intensity of competition in which technological advantage can give companies a key edge in attracting consumers.

Rochester, New York-based Eastman Kodak Co. has an ongoing patent dispute over photo technology at the USITC with Apple Inc. of Cupertino, California, and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Canada.

Samsung companies are taking an aggressive stance in global technology patent wars.

Samsung Electronics is embroiled in multiple complaints and lawsuits with Apple over smartphone and tablet technology. Separately, Samsung and Taiwan's AU Optronics Corp. have launched legal actions against each other over alleged patent infringement in liquid crystal displays.

Latest business news from AP-Wire

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Clinton: US backs tough Greek austerity measures

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 05:48 PM PDT

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton voiced strong American support Sunday for financially troubled Greece's economic recovery plans and urged the nation to forge ahead with painful reforms that have sparked unrest.

During and after meetings with senior Greek officials, Clinton underscored Washington's backing for their deficit and debt reduction programs that have hit the country hard, even as the Obama administration grapples with a similar issue at home. She acknowledged the reforms were "strong medicine" that are difficult to swallow, but said the United States had complete confidence in them.

"America is just as committed to Greece's future as we are to preserving your past," Clinton said before signing an agreement at the Acropolis Museum that will protect Greek cultural objects from being looted or illegally sold on the international market. "During these difficult economic times, we will stand with you."

Standing before a bank of large windows looking up at the Acropolis, she said: "We are confident that the nation that built the Parthenon, invented democracy and inspired the world can rise to the current challenge."

Earlier, at a news conference with Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, Clinton said the U.S. and Greece "have a lot riding on our relationship together." Lambrinidis thanked her for U.S. support. "Friends prove themselves in difficult times and, as we know, Greece is going through a difficult time," he said. "The U.S. has stood by us in a decisive manner."

Lambrindis said that many on "both sides of the Atlantic" had predicted Greece's collapse. He said Greece had proved them wrong and would continue to prove them wrong.

The Greek financial crisis loomed overshadowed other items on Clinton's agenda here, including improving ties between Greece and Turkey, resolving their long-standing dispute over divided Cyprus, the Middle East peace process and the wave of popular discontent sweeping the Arab world.

Greece's government has embarked on a punishing new round of austerity measures after missing its deficit-cutting targets so far in 2011. Spending cuts and tax hikes have already sparked frequent strikes and demonstrations, with protests often turning violent in central Athens.

Clinton appealed for the Greek people to stay the course.

"We know these were not easy decisions," she said. "While the payoff from these sacrifices may not come quickly, it will come. ... Greece has inspired the world before and I have every confidence that they are doing so again."

Clinton's meetings with top Greek officials come as Greece prepares for an emergency summit on Thursday in Brussels of the leaders of the 17 eurozone countries at which they will attempt to forge a deal on a second bailout for the nation.

Greece needs an extra $162.68 billion (euro115 billion) to keep it afloat until mid-2014, according to the European Commission - on top of a euro110 billion bailout it was granted last May.

Fears that Greece's private creditors may have to take losses as part of the deal dragged the big economies of Spain and Italy into the debt crisis, which has so far been confined to small states like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Clinton is visiting Athens on the second leg of a 12-day around-the-world diplomatic tour. She came to Greece from Turkey and will travel to India, Indonesia, Hong Kong and southern mainland China before returning home on July 25.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Samoa stun Wallabies in Sydney

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 06:24 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Samoa ran in four tries to stun Australia 32-23 in a famous and well-deserved victory yesterday that gave the Wallabies the worst possible start to their World Cup season.

The ragged Australians were simply outplayed by the Pacific Islanders, who complemented their usual hard-hitting defence with an uncompromising effort at the breakdown to record their first victory over the home side in five meetings.

Alesana Tuilagi, Paul Williams, Kane Thompson, George Pisi etched their names into Samoa's history books by scoring the tries with flyhalf Tusi Pisi adding 12 points with his boot.

The ecstatic Samoans, cheered to the rafters by a large contingent of exiled compatriots in the 30,000 crowd at the Olympic stadium, celebrated their victory as if they had won the World Cup itself.       

"It's history for us to beat the number two side in the world," head coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua told reporters, his assistant Brian McLean adding: "Today for us was about getting some respect and hopefully we got some."

The Australians, who open their Tri-Nations campaign against the Springboks next weekend, scored a try in each half through winger Digby Ioane and flyhalf Matt Giteau but were always struggling after the visitors had raced to a 17-0 lead.

"We got beaten in terms of the physical exchanges," Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said. "They defended strongly, they knocked a lot of ball out, they attacked the breakdown effectively and turned the ball over and profited from that."       

The Samoans dominated possession early on but their first two tries did come from turnover ball.

In the 11th minute, huge winger Tuilaga snared a loose ball inside his own 22 and, with no defenders in front of him, flew down the line, brushing off Giteau and touching down with an exuberant dive.

Some 18 minutes later, Williams charged down Australian scrumhalf Nick Phipps' clearance kick and recovered to help extend the lead to 17-0 inside the first half an hour.

Australia were stunned but looked to have wrested back the momentum when Ioane raced over after a five metre scrum and Giteau penalties either side of the break narrowed the deficit to four points. The Samoans were not done yet, though, and despite being down to 14 men after Daniel Leo was sin-binned towards the end of the first half, lock Thompson finished a rampaging move to edge the visitors further in front after 46 minutes.

Deans brought on replacements from the bench but another storming Samoan attack less than 10 minutes later allowed centre George Pisi to inch over from close range for the fourth try and a 29-13 lead.       

With an upset now in sight, scrumhalf Will Genia and fullback Kurtley Beale were sent into the fray and the pair did bring more of a cutting edge to the home attack.

It was the footballing skills of backrower Scott Higginbotham which brought Australia their second try, however, with Giteau profiting from his chip and chase to touch down in the corner.

With only nine minutes remaining and the Samoans scenting victory, it proved too little too late. — Reuters                     

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Yelena makes winning return

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 06:22 PM PDT

HEUSDEN (Belgium): Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva defied strong winds to clinch victory in her first outdoor meeting of the season on Saturday as the Russian golden girl began her build-up to the world championships.

Isinbayeva recorded a modest winning effort of 4.60m, way below her world record of 5.06m set in Zurich in August 2009.

The 29-year-old, who has suffered a series of setbacks in the last two seasons, will continue her preparations for the Aug 27-Sept 4 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, by competing at Lugano (July 18) and Lucerne (July 21).

Isinbayeva became Russia's best known sportswoman by winning Olympic gold in Athens and Beijing and lifting the world record to well above five metres.

However, her aura of invincibility slipped when she failed to record a height in the final stage of the 2009 Berlin world championships and only came fourth in last year's world indoor championships in Doha.

Isinbayeva, who has set 27 world records in her career, has said she was preparing to gain revenge for her defeat in Berlin where the world title was won by Anna Rogowska of Poland. — AFP

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Fourth stage win for Cavendish on Tour de France

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 06:20 PM PDT

MONTPELLIER: Mark Cavendish delivered a textbook sprint in the finale of the 193-kms 15th stage of the Tour de France in Montpellier yesterday to snatch his fourth victory in this year's race.       

Perfectly set up by his lead-out man Mark Renshaw, the Briton surged with 200m to go before the finish line to beat American Tyler Farrar and Italian Alessandro Petacchi.       

The win, his 19th overall in the Tour de France, strengthened the Manxman's top spot in the race for the green jersey.       

Already the most successful sprinter in the race history, the Briton is now tied in seventh place in terms of stage victories with 1909 Tour winner Francois Faber.       

"My name is on the list but it is for the (HTC Highroad) team. I don't think       there's a sprinter with more wins on the Tour and it shows the commitment these guys have towards me. I'm incredibly lucky for that," he said.       

"I struggled a lot in the mountains and for them I wanted it to be worth it. It was technically difficult, lots of winds, lots of attacks but we stayed disciplined."       

The Manxman finished the previous stage in Plateau de Beille just inside the time cut but had kept enough strength to beat his rivals as well as the strong winds sweeping the course all day.       

"What gets you through the mountains is the smell of a success like today's," he said.       

"You're tired but it's not going to affect the edge of your sprint."       

His rivals for the green jersey tried to spoil the HTC Highroad show towards the end and Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert moved three kms from the line hoping to avoid a bunch sprint but the Briton's guard reined him in.       

In the points classification, Cavendish now leads Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas by 37 points and Gilbert by 71 before the second rest day.       

"You can never take anything for granted. I will try to keep getting points and see what happens," said the Manxman, narrowly beaten for the green jersey in the last two years.       

The overall leader's yellow jersey remained on the back of Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who ordered his Europcar team mates to relax and let the sprinters' teams lead the way all day.       

"I was not feeling too good today. I had the rest day on my mind, like many of us," he said.       

Voeckler leads Luxembourg's Frank Schleck by one minute and 49 seconds with Australian Cadel Evans third 2:06 behind.       

Yet, with only six stages left in the Tour, the Frenchman keeps shrugging off suggestions that he can win the Tour.       

"To be honest, I don't believe in it for a second," he said.       

The long ride along windy roads from Limoux included a long breakaway involving Dutchman Niki Terp­stra, Russian Mikhail Ignatyev and Frenchmen Samuel Dumoulin, Mickael Delage and Anthony Delaplace.       

The last of the escapees, Terpstra, was caught two kilometres from the line. — Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

'Harry Potter' conjures first-day record of $92.1M

Posted: 16 Jul 2011 09:17 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES (AP): Harry Potter has cast his biggest spell yet with a record-breaking first day at the box office for his final film.

Distributor Warner Bros. reports that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" summoned up $92.1 million domestically on opening day Friday.

That's nearly $20 million more than the previous record-holder, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," which took in $72.7 million in its first day two years ago.

The film added $75 million in 57 overseas countries Friday, raising its international total to $157.5 million since it began rolling out Wednesday. That gives the film a worldwide total of about $250 million.

Among its first-day totals Friday was $14.8 million in Great Britain, which Warner Bros. reported was the biggest single day ever for a movie.

The first 3-D film in the series, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" benefited from the higher price theaters charge for 3-D tickets, which cost a few dollars more than 2-D.

In a single day, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" took in more money than four of the previous seven "Harry Potter" films did over their entire opening weekends.

The finale of the "Harry Potter" saga also set a record for midnight screenings with $43.5 million. That topped "The Twilight Saga:

Eclipse," which pulled in about $30 million in its first midnight shows last year.

Box-office tracker Hollywood.com projected Saturday that "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" also could break the opening-weekend record of $158.4 million domestically held by "The Dark Knight."

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The Star Online: Nation

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Lo’Lo’ dies of cancer, no by-election

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 08:55 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: PAS Titiwangsa MP Dr Lo'Lo' Ghazali has died of cancer. She was 54.

PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub confirmed that Lo'Lo' had passed away.

A posting in her Facebook account said she died at about 10.20pm Sunday Night.

Her body had been brought the Al-Akram Mosque in Datuk Keramat to be prepared for burial.

Earlier in the day, PKR Youth exco member Badrul Hisham Saharin or better known as Che'gu Bard and several other opposition MPs had tweeted that Dr Lo'Lo' had already passed away.

"Al-Fatihah to one of our fighters who never gives up. YB Dr Lolo has passed away," said Badrul on his twitter account.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said in his twitter account at 2pm yesterday: "Al-fatihah- we lost a friend and a fighter...who passed away a moment ago."

Both leaders later apologised for the confusion over their earlier tweets claiming Dr Lo'Lo' had died.

"Sorry for the wrong information. The rumours about the death of YB Dr Lolo were untrue. She is still under treatment. "Lets pray for the best. Sorry again," said Badrul.

Her death will not result in a by-election as the current 12th Parliament had served its three-year mandate as at April 28 this year.

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Poslaju to open 11 new branches throughout the country

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 04:03 AM PDT

BESUT: National courier service company Poslaju will open 11 new branches throughout the country to widen its network and provide value added services, said its chief operating officer Nor Azizan Tarja.

He said the company currently had 52 branches including those in Sabah and Sarawak and the latest in Jertih, Terengganu.

The 11 new branches will be in Jitra, Kuala Kangsar, Machang, Dungun, Keningau, Port Dickson, Bahau, Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Alor Gajah and Parit Buntar.

"All the branches are expected to be opened by year end," he told the media at the opening of the Jertih branch near here Sunday.

He said last year, Poslaju handled 19 million items generating a turnover of RM200mil and this the year the revenue target was RM260mil. - Bernama

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38 teams competing in yachting challenge

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 03:59 AM PDT

MIRI: The eighth edition of the Borneo International Yachting Challenge (BIYC) began at the Marina Bay here, involving 38 teams from 13 countries.

Social Development and Urbanisation Assistant Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin flagged off the race, which attracted sailors from Australia, Austria, Antigua, Canada, France, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

Speaking to reporters after the launch Sunday, Lee who is also the BIYC co-chairman said this year's challenge covered a distance of 165 nautical miles from Miri to Kota Kinabalu.

"This will be the first time that we are organising a route from Miri directly to Kota Kinabalu and it is the longest passage race in this region," he said.

The yachting challenge was first organised in 2003. It aims to promote the waters off western Borneo and its inland tourism products and encourage locals to take up sailing either as recreational or competitive sport. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Baldacci abandons thriller style in One Summer

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 01:40 AM PDT

JACK Armstrong, who hasn't even reached his mid-30s, is dying of an unnamed disease. His wife struggles to raise their three children and take care of Jack. On Christmas Eve, she heads off to the pharmacy to pick up medication – and is killed in an accident. Talk about harrowing....

After Lizzie's death, Jack agrees to hospice care as his sister-in-law takes the children. Lying in bed and staring at the walls, he waits to die. Then he finds himself getting stronger and stronger.

The doctors cannot explain it, but the disease has gone into remission. Dubbed the "Miracle Man" by the press for being the first survivor of the illness, Jack struggles to regain his health – and his children. He decides to take them to a beach house where Lizzie grew up and try to become their father again.

Baldacci uses every possible trick to produce an emotional response, and enough tears flow among the characters to create a small pond. The experience is a bit like reading a Nicholas Sparks novel, but upped a notch to yield the proper reaction. The ending feels rushed, leaving questions about how events and relationships play out.

Wish You Well (2000), about an ordinary family struggling to survive the upheavals of 1940s America, is arguably one of Baldacci's best books, and he tries to recreate that experience with One Summer. Abandoning his usual thriller style is a bit of a gamble, and it will be interesting to watch whether readers will embrace or discard his latest book.

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Join Julia’s jaunt

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 01:38 AM PDT

I CAN'T believe it's been two years since Anthony Browne was appointed Britain's Children's Laureate. A month ago, Julia Donaldson took over from Browne and she will spend the next two years championing libraries, and promoting music and drama.

Most book-loving parents and children will know Donaldson as the author responsible for The Gruffalo, a rhyming tale of a mouse who outwits a large, be-horned creature (illustrated by Axel Scheffler) who looks like he might be a close relative of one of Maurice Sendak's wild things.

What they might not know is that it is based on a Chinese fable known as The Fox Borrows The Tiger's Terror. Donaldson substituted the gruffalo as the villain of the piece as she couldn't think of words that rhymed with "tiger". (Can you?)

Not only does Donaldson's tale rhyme beautifully and have a jaunty, catchy rhythm, there are several refrains that children very quickly pick up and are able to chant along with their parents. This makes for a lively, interactive storytelling experience, and is the reason why the book is one of my very favourite for group storytelling sessions at parties and other events.

There is also The Gruffalo Song, which you can sing after you've told the story. Basically a description of the monster ("He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws..."), the song encourages listeners to imagine the beast into being. If you teach children to sing the song before you show them Scheffler's pictures, get them to draw pictures based on the descriptions – you'll be amazed at the wide variety of monsters produced.

The song is available on a CD with other compositions (10 in all, written and sung by Donaldson herself), and there is also a book, The Gruffalo Song And Other Songs (Macmillan), that provides lyrics, piano score and guitar tabs. My favourite track is Pull A Funny Face, which has been a hit with every group of children I've sung it with – well, of course, as children always enjoy making faces.

By the way, there are also minus-one tracks so you can choose to sing-along with Donaldson or not. (Room On The Broom And Other Songs is also available as a book and CD.)

Donaldson actually composed songs for children's television before she became a writer. Her picture book, A Squash And A Squeeze, started life as a song. It was her very first picture book and also the one that began her illustrious partnership with Scheffler.

Although she is best known for her picture books – other titles include Room On The Broom, Monkey Puzzle, The Snail On The Whale, The Magic Paintbrush (illustrated by Joel Stewart) and Cave Baby (illustrated by Emily Gravett) – Donaldson also writes early reader and phonics texts, poems and plays, novels for children, and, of course, songs.

Lucky British children – they have an enthusiastic and experienced Laureate who plans to really get involved in promoting books and reading; a Laureate who plans to encourage telling stories through music and drama; and one who intends to do her part to save Britain's libraries, which are suffering from budget cuts.

Well, at the very least, Malaysian children can revel in Donaldson's stories, rhymes and songs. As a well-loved and accomplished author whose stories entertain, encourage and engage, she definitely makes a big difference to the way children respond to books, here and around the world.

Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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Tales From The Yoga Studio: A joy to read

Posted: 17 Jul 2011 01:24 AM PDT

Here's a book that makes no bones about being all about feeling good at the end.

YOU know that saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Well, In the case of Tales From The Yoga Studio, it would be wise not to judge the book by its title. For author Rain Mitchell's debut novel goes beyond the chick-lit-infused-with-herbal-tea-and-hippy-sensibilities implied by its title and delves into the ups and downs of life and the bond of friendship.

Edendale Yoga is owned and run by Lee, whose special brand of teaching attracts yoga students and devotees from all over Los Angeles.

There's Stephanie, a screenwriter who is totally stressed as she's one of Los Angeles's "43,000 freelancers" trying to gain traction in film production.

Graciela is a dancer on the verge of a big break who needs to recover from a suspicious injury first.

The third protagonist is Imani, a beautiful television actress "living the dark side of the Hollywood dream" and seeking some sort of healing for her life's biggest loss.

The fourth is Katherine, Edendale Yoga's masseuse, who is trying to overcome a troubled past to develop a relationship with the nicest man she's ever met.

Lee offers these ladies a haven in which they can relax, be themselves and leave their worries behind for 90 minutes at a time while they go through yoga postures. But she herself is facing problems of her own.

With corporate-backed yoga studio franchises mushrooming all over LA, Lee is feeling the pinch of running an independent yoga studio that barely breaks even every month.

She has children to feed, a house to maintain, and a marriage that is teetering dangerously on the brink of collapse, so Lee is considering accepting one of the numerous offers to sell out, in particular, huge commercial yoga chain, YogaHappens.

But that would make Lee just one of many employees on the chain's payroll. The money would help solve her family problems – and possibly even her marriage – but will it damage her relationship with Stephanie, Graciela, Imani and Katherine?

Can they risk having their precious "be me" time handled by a faceless corporation whose only interest is making a profit and not the well being of its customers?

It is with the issues and problems faced by the five protagonists that Tales From The Yoga Studio develops its plot. Their stories are narrated sympathetically in turn, and tell of a symphony of joys, broken hearts, painful decisions, financial worries and subtle epiphanies.

The bond of friendship, yoga and the tranquillity that comes from practising the ancient Indian art are the themes running throughout the novel that are fleshed out in poignant scenes.

Mitchell has a knack for writing in a way that invites her readers into every scene and makes us feel we are part of the story. She is a bona fide yoga practitioner, and fills Tales From The Yoga Studio with yoga postures and positions, providing explanations for each of the postures and allowing her readers to be part of the class. And perhaps even inspiring us to sign up for a class.

If it seems rather far-fetched that at the start of the novel, each of the women have their troubles and by the end, all their issues are solved, well, suspend your need for gritty reality for a while and enjoy a feel-good novel that is part chick-lit, part yoga manual and light reading all the way. In short, Tales From The Yoga Studio makes for very entertaining reading without the black cloud of "issues" creeping in.

Mitchell is currently at work on a sequel. I'm hoping the follow-up will be as inviting and as much of a joy to read as the first.

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Malaysian sculptures on display

Posted: 16 Jul 2011 04:35 PM PDT

Cities around the world have proudly displayed their public artworks. It's time we do the same.

A TOWKAY scales the wall of a shophouse in Love Lane, George Town, to see his mistress. A labourer heaves chunky tin ingots while smoke billows from the smelters along Penang's Jalan Dato Keramat. Over in Kuala Lumpur, Indian dancers strike bharatanatyam poses in the busy streets of Brickfields.

Streets chock full of culture and heritage? It's almost as if some Citrawarna tourism carnival has come to town, except that the characters in question are all inanimate sculptures.

These works have all come up in the past year thanks to the vision of Sculptureatwork, a company which believes it's about time art becomes more public. And what better way to display it 24/7, rain or shine, and for free, than by having three-dimensional public sculptures?

The tin industry sculptures mentioned above adorn the commercial-residential development known as Penang Times Square, the site of which was once the Eastern Smelting Company.

"The developer initially wanted to bring in sculptures from China and elswhere," recalls Sculptureatwork founder Y.L. Soon.

"But we felt that simply plonking down a few foreign works would not have much significance. Since the site was formerly a tin smelter, we proposed some sculptures that would relate to the site. If you put those same works elsewhere, the meaning would be lost."

The company has created its own outdoor landmarks over the years. At the Hard Rock Café in Penang Michael Jackson sits on a throne in the same pose as the US president at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Several aspirational figures representing the "fundamental values" of Amway adorn its corporate headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, and Coastal Runners are frozen in perpetual "motion" along Penang's Jelutong Expressway.

Its indoor sculptures are also fascinating. Diners at a restaurant at KL's Mandarin Oriental hotel can get "horny" with animal heads made of wire frames covered with rice paper, while photographers visiting the Nikon showroom in KL can test their lenses on the colourful miniature figures "living" amidst a small "town".

Visitors to the company's head office in Bangsar, KL, can see how a Penang Indian barber shop has been faithfully recreated, complete with miniature chairs, scissors and eau de cologne bottles!

Creativity sprawls all over the office, what with "clouds" hovering above the main gallery, 1960s hair perming machines converted into standing lamps, and 3D facades of old Penang shops.

"The shops are 1:10 scale models," explains Tommy Chen, marketing executive of Sculptureatwork. "Everything is faithfully redone, down to the cloth curtains and carved wooden Chinese signboards."

The feather in the company's cap came last April when it won a competition on how to artistically enhance George Town's heritage, beating 40 (foreign and local) contestants. And that's what the climbing Love Lane towkay is all about – it's one of an eventual 52 sculptures which will illustrate the history and culture of this Unesco World Heritage city.

At Weld Quay, renowned for its Indian-style noodles, sailors and port workers cry out for water after tucking into spicy noodles in the sculpture titled Too Hot. Over at Transfer Road, the Goh Kah Kee caricature is an infotainment piece about the history of five-foot way pavements. All the figures and text are flat, like cartoons made using metal rods of different diameters. In fact, the judges chose Sculptureatwork's proposal because the concept of the People's Voices (of history) would accentuate George Town's heritage and make it more interesting to visitors.

It was also deemed to be cost effective, and could be "implemented immediately". Also, the robust metal rod creations require minimal maintenance.

"To come up with the sculptures, we studied the character of numerous sites all over George Town," says creative director Tang Mung Kian. "Our idea was to showcase the People's Voices, not replicate textbook history. For example, stories like how the towkays used to keep mistresses in Love Lane.

"It helped that my wife is from Penang and my mother-in-law told me many old stories, like how gangsters in Noordin Street used to hide their parangs under signboards. Such insights can't be found in tourist guidebooks. It was an exciting project because every site has a different history."

True to Penangites' reputation for thrift, the project offers real value for money – RM1.02 million for a whopping 52 sculptures.

"That works out to less than RM20,000 for each sculpture. We are working with the state government and the deal is very transparent," says Chen.

"The cartoonists have done their work at a special discounted rate. It's a win-win situation for us and them, as they also gain exposure. This is not just a state affair but a Unesco project. The judges included people like (architects) Hijjas Kasturi and Sek San. It was a real honour to be chosen."

So far, the company has delivered 11 sculptures based on cartoons by Reggie Lee and Tang himself. Other creations will include the Labourer to Trader sculpture at Chowrasta Market, where two traders skilfully carry wares on their heads.

Convict labourers were reputed to have built most of the government buildings in the state's early history; some eventually upgraded themselves into petty traders, becoming the core group that started the market.

A trader on a small sampan will profess his love to a young maiden staring down from her bedroom window. This will be the Waterway sculpture next to the Prangin River, once a bustling waterway for goods shipped from all over the world.

At Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, the Bullock Cart Wheel cartoon will have huge antique half-cent coins as wheels. The area was once a popular rest stop for cart drivers.

The One Leg Kicks All sculpture at Muntri Street will show a woman carrying a baby while using her leg to hang up clothes, kungfu-style, reflecting how the amahs (maids) were like domestic superwomen. The amah wryly refers to herself as yat keok tet, which translates as "one leg kicks all" in Cantonese.

The next phase of the project may include transparent telephone booths with speech bubbles and functional sculptures such as benches which double as trishaw stands.

Chen points out that all sculptures have to be approved by a committee comprising the George Town World Heritage Inc, Penang Heritage Trust, the state government and Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) to ensure that they not only reflect history and culture accurately, but are also not offensive to any community. The owners of the buildings where the sculptures are installed are also consulted.

Initially, the clients provides a rough idea of what they want, says marketing executive Gary Lim. "Then our creative department in KL comes up with some concepts. Once the client approves it, the team of sculptors at our Penang workshop will produce it."

In the days of Michelangelo, solid blocks of marble had to be laboriously chipped away to create statues. These days, there is the technology of cold casting, where powdered marble or limestone (calcium carbonate) can be put into a mould and then, with the help of industrial resins (gums) and fibreglass, be made to look like imitation marble.

Similarly, powdered clay (malachite) can be bonded with chemicals to look like faux porcelain, without the need for expensive furnaces.

A crew of some 60 sculptors work under two master sculptors, Low Chee Peng and Alex Ang, at the Penang workshop, which occupies the former Mei Du cinema in Jelutong.

Coming of age

Sculptureatwork was established in 2005 but Soon, who studied at the Malaysian Institute of Art, had been doing commercial sculpting projects before that. His company, Working Theme, specialises in designing and building entertainment outlets such as the Bintang Palace and Aloha bar (both in KL) and Paradise in Johor Baru.

The first two years were tough, he says. "We were not sure if the venture would succeed as people did not really accept sculpture then. I had to pump in money from my other companies."

Soon is glad that sculpture is taking off locally.

"Malaysians are used to travelling overseas nowadays and when they see sculptures, they wonder, 'Why don't we have it at home?'"

Equally important is that companies are also more open about sculptures.

"All this while, they've been willing to spend money on advertising. But ads have a limited lifespan and their value drops with time, whereas sculptures are iconic and permanent, their value is long-term."

Chen says Malaysians still find it difficult to accept sculpture that's "too abstract", so they choose something inbetween realism and the totally avant-garde.

"We are not selling sculpture, we are selling ideas and design concepts," Soon adds. "We study the site and its relationship to culture and people and then custom design the sculpture to suit people and places, and enhance the environment of the properties."

Chen says the demand for sculpture is growing and it has become part of "lifestyle development", citing the company's outdoor installations for two high-end condominium projects along Jalan Kia Peng and Mont Kiara in KL. "Developers now want sculpture as part of image branding for their properties."

Apart from developers and designers, the other key aspect is support from the authorities. One artist reveals that in the past, some public sculptures were viewed as jokes.

"The problem is that the people in the local authorities do not know much about art – that's why we have seen some dubious so-called abstract sculptures. It's not like in Europe where the town councils have people, or even whole departments, that know about art and can evaluate proposals properly," Chen says.

Artists' frustration over how some authorities lack artistic sense is best seen in the case of Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal's abstract sculpture, Puncak Purnama, in downtown KL. When City Hall made alterations to "improve it", the artist sued it for destroying the artistic integrity of his work. He won the case last year.

One reason that public sculptures are not as common here as in, say, Indonesia is that some Muslims view them as potential idols.

"I am not sure why there is this impression; after all, we also see sculptures in the Middle East," says Lim.

To avoid any controversy, the team usually tries to create "semi abstract" or stylised sculptures, such as the Coastal Runners in Penang, rather than overly realistic human replicas. Cartoons are also seen as inoffensive.

"For the George Town project, we have line drawings of cartoons because we understand that some Muslims are uneasy about having patung (idols or statues)," Soon explains.

"Our designs are not so abstract that people cannot understand them. The main thing is to arouse their curiosity about art. But (public) art is about having people responding and asking questions," says Lim.

"As we invest more money on culture, people will appreciate it more. We are just doing our best and public acceptance is not bad so far.

"The people in my workshop are very multi-racial. Everybody is working together to produce original designs. I believe that given a chance, Malaysians can be as good as anyone else in the world," Soon adds.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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Electromagnetic pollution

Posted: 16 Jul 2011 07:39 PM PDT

Antioxidants and vitamins are required in the fight against electromagnetic radiation.

RIGHT now, you're probably wondering what electromagnetic radiation means. Many people are not aware what electromagnetic radiation is. If you work on a computer or own a mobile phone, make sure you read this article. What you do not know may be a major cause of ill-health.

Electromagnetic radiation (or EMF pollution) is a term given to all the man-made electromagnetic fields (EMF) of various frequencies, which fill our homes, workplace and public spaces. When we call something in our environment a pollutant, we are implying that it is somehow harmful to nature and to ourselves.

The source of electromagnetic pollution in our environment has been growing exponentially for the past 30 years or so. From desktop computers to mobile phones, we have a potential crisis of sorts with the "pollutants" that come from these and other similar technologies. It's called electromagnetic pollution.

You can't see them, taste them, touch them, hear them (most of the time), smell them, or even know how much and to what degree you are being affected by electromagnetic pollutants. This is another reason that we continue to emphasise the need for good nutrition and more antioxidant and vitamin support in the form of supplementation, considering most of us don't get enough in our diet.

According to Camille Rees, an expert on the subject of electromagnetic pollution, "This is a species issue ... There is early evidence to link EMF (electromagnetic fields) exposures to autism ... We know radiation is affecting our DNA and jeopardising the health of future generations. There is research from many countries now showing dramatic decline in sperm count from exposure to such radiation ..."

And that is just the beginning of what we are starting to learn about what could be a very widespread problem as we continue to utilise modern technologies, which translates into greater amounts of EMF around us.

There is also a report that suggests the need for increasing awareness about the negative impact of electromagnetic pollution among children because it effects their normal, physical and mental growth. The report goes on to point out that electromagnetic pollution likely hampers proper growth of children, as well as the developing child in pregnant women.

While it is important to be aware of these things, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to do anything to change how we are being affected. That is, unless we come up with better technology that will help us avoid so much exposure. But individually, there doesn't seem to be an easy solution, especially if you're using a mobile phone frequently, barring a move to a rural area where there is much less EMF exposure.

That may not be practical for most people.

Dr Andrew Weil, a well known US physician, author, professor and wellness advocate states, "Electromagnetic pollution may be the most significant form of pollution human activity has produced in this century!"

How can we protect ourselves from this electromagnetic pollution? Well, the most important thing you can do is feed your body the proper nutrition that it demands for fighting the free radicals that come from any type of pollutant, from radiation to exposure to sun (UV rays) and cigarette smoke.

While it may seem like using a slingshot on an elephant, the fact is that good nutrition and plenty of antioxidants from food sources (fruits, vegetables, grapes, and berries) are going to be the best way to take action and give your body the best chance for preventing sickness and disease.

If you do not eat enough of those plant-based foods or if you have a poor diet, then it is highly recommended that you take a complete antioxidant supplement which includes standardised grape seed extract and alpha lipoic acid. Other important antioxidants and support nutrients include vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, selenium, zinc and manganese.

Together, these synergistic nutrients work collectively to safeguard the body from the daily bombardment of free radicals generated from various sources, ie electromagnetic radiation, exercise and even stress.

The active ingredients found in standardized extracts of grape seed are oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs). Research indicates that OPCs may be 20 to 50 times more potent as an antioxidant than vitamin C and E.

This simply means that OPCs from grape seed extract are many times more efficient in fighting free radicals than either vitamin C or E.

Alpha lipoic acid helps regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione (an important antioxidant produced in the body). Alpha lipoic acid is the only antioxidant that can boost the level of intracellular glutathione. Besides being the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant and a major detoxification agent, glutathione is absolutely essential for the functioning of the immune system.

> This article is courtesy of Live-well Nutraceuticals, for more information, please consult your pharmacist or call Live-well INFOline: 03-6140 7605 or e-mail info@live-well.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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A life of service

Posted: 16 Jul 2011 07:38 PM PDT

Dr Mary Cardosa takes off the MMA president's hat and talks about life and work.

WHAT made you embark on a career in medicine?

I have always wanted to work with people, and to help people, so I suppose medicine was quite a good choice. Initially (after I finished my A levels), I did not go straight to medical school. I went to the US for a couple of years to do "liberal arts" and to "find myself". But being interested in many different things at that time, I was not able to focus on any one thing in particular.

After spending a couple of years in the US, I decided to come back home to do medicine because first, it would allow me to work with people, and second, I wanted to contribute to my own country (which is why I did not stay back in the US to do medicine).

After over two decades of medical service, what do you think it means to be a doctor?

This is a difficult question to answer. The one word that comes to mind is "service". As a doctor, my role is to serve my patients, and to be good in my work so that my patients can benefit. It is very tiring, stressful, sometimes frightening, but also rewarding. It's great.

Doctors have a special position because we see people when they are most vulnerable and worried, anxious, etc. We have the knowledge and means to help them in their most needy time. Knowing this, we have to take our jobs seriously and do the best we can with the current knowledge, drugs and equipment available to us.

Pain is a subject that is very painful and uncomfortable to many of us. What made you interested in it?

I guess I like a challenge. Pain management was something that was not well developed in Malaysia when I went to Australia to complete my anaesthesia fellowship, so I learnt about acute pain management initially, then went on to learn about chronic pain management.

My father, who is not a doctor but a teacher, was involved for many years in the hospice movement, because he is a cancer survivor. He always wanted me to do something about cancer pain but I resisted for a while, but in the end, I am doing that as well.

As there are lots to develop in this area, it is very interesting – pioneering work is always challenging and interesting!

All these years as an anaesthesiologist you have been helping people deal with pain. What does it teach you about life?

Another difficult question! Life is short, I suppose. We need to take control of our lives and our pain rather than allow pain to control us (which is what happens to a lot of people with chronic pain).

Is it stressful or depressing to help people deal with pain? If it is, how do you deal with the emotions?

Of course, it is stressful sometimes. Not really depressing, because, when we are helping them when they are "down", we are helping them to get better.

It's great when patients are able to turn around their lives just because they understand their pain better and are not fearful of their pain anymore, and are able to take control of their lives again. We have seen many people who achieve this.

There are, of course, patients who refuse to listen to us, refuse to try out what we ask them to, and continue to suffer and be a burden on the health system. But we can't win them all.

To be able to deal with the stress, we need to accept that we are not god, we cannot cure everyone, and we cannot change everyone; our role is to offer them information, alternative ways of managing pain, etc. It's then up to the patient to do the rest. We cannot do everything.

You are also very passionate about social causes: you were once the president of the All Women's Action Movement (AWAM), and served for many years on the MMA executive committee on top of commitments to a pain clinic. How do you juggle your time?

With great difficulty. I guess being single helps – I don't have a husband or children to look after!

What does a normal working day look like for you?

I work from 8am to 5pm, and have meetings about three days a week. Weekends are spent at workshops, conferences or meetings. I probably only have one weekend off per month on average.

What kind of activities do you do outside of work?

Play scrabble and Sudoku. I used to exercise regularly but now I don't do enough. I actually used to jog regularly but now can only do brisk walking, and only on weekends when I am free – so you see how little I do!

If you were to advise a young person who wants to become a doctor about what to expect, what would be your words of wisdom?

Firstly, please do medicine only if you really want to do it, not because your mother or father wants you to do it.

Life as a doctor is tough and stressful, and you have to do it for yourself, not for someone else.

Secondly, before you commit yourself to medical school, try to spend some time with a doctor so that you know what it's like in reality – so it won't be a shock to you when you start your career.

Thirdly, keep up with your hobbies and non-medical pursuits even if you do medicine – you need to have some balance in life.

Fourthly, be conscientious; study hard, keep up with the developments in your field, read, read, read and digest the information and apply it to the patients that you are seeing.

And last but not least, when you are in a difficult situation, don't be afraid to call for help or consult your colleagues, even when you are a senior.

Always put yourself in the position of the patient, especially when you feel that you don't want to get up in the middle of the night to attend to someone.

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Medicine for the people

Posted: 16 Jul 2011 07:38 PM PDT

Dr Mary Suma Cardosa, who was recently installed as the first female president of the Malaysian Medical Association, talks about her new role, life and work.

CONGRATULATIONS on your recent installation as the president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA). How do you feel about being the first female president of the MMA?

Thank you. I feel happy that at long last a woman has been elected into this position. At the same time, I feel a little nervous, as it seems like a big responsibility. [It is] not just the responsibility of leading the association representing the largest number of doctors in the country (and therefore, representing the "voice of the medical profession" in Malaysia), but also being the first woman president, I feel that I have to do not just a good job, but a great job, as many people will be watching me closely.

After having been registered for 51 years, only now does the MMA have a female president. Do you think that it is a significant milestone in terms of gender equality in Malaysian medicine? Is it still deemed a male-dominated field in Malaysia?

Well, what I can say is better late than never! I think that medicine has previously been more male-dominated, but not anymore. In fact, a lot of medical schools have more female students than males now. When I was a medical student in the late 70s and early 80s, only about 30% of the class were females.

I think the increasing number of women doctors is in parallel with the increase in the number of women professionals.

In Malaysia, two of the major organisations that are involved in issues concerning medical practice are the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and the MMA. How different is the role of the MMA compared to the MMC?

The MMA is a non-governmental organisation, an association registered with the Registrar of Societies. Its membership is voluntary, and we have to continuously recruit new members and remind members to renew their membership.

The MMC, on the other hand, is a council that is constituted by the law. The director general of Health chairs the council and its members are appointed as well as elected.

The role of the MMC is a regulatory one: all doctors have to be registered with the MMC in order to practise medicine in Malaysia.

What made you join MMA in the first place, and how long did you serve in the MMA executive committee?

I joined the MMA when I was a medical student. In those days, as medical student members of the MMA, we were invited to attend talks on various medical-related topics, and these usually came with a nice dinner!

We also had the facility to apply for loans and got news about what was happening in the medical fraternity through the newsletter of the MMA – Berita MMA (which is still published monthly today).

When I became a doctor, I continued my membership, and soon converted it to a life membership. During my days as a house officer and medical officer, I was active in SCHOMOS (the Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers and Specialists in government service) in the MMA. We fought for better living conditions for doctors, more opportunities for training and continuing medical education (CME), and later on, better pay for doctors.

I was the secretary of SCHOMOS in the late 80s, but then I stopped being active in MMA while I was pursuing my postgraduate education.

In the late 1990s I became a member of the editorial board of the MMA (for the Berita MMA), and later I was appointed the honorary general secretary in 2007, and elected as the president elect in 2009.

You once mentioned that the issue you wish to tackle the most during your tenure is engaging civil society in discussions concerning healthcare in Malaysia. Do you think a one-year tenure is enough to initiate changes?

Obviously one year is not enough. However, in his tenure as president for the last two years, Dr David Quek has already started making statements on the MMA's views on healthcare reform in Malaysia, and has called for more open discussion on this.

I hope that during my term, we will have more concrete discussion with all stakeholders and that the Ministry of Health (MOH) will take all parties' views into consideration.

What is your vision for the MMA during your tenure?

There are many things that need to be done, but I want to focus on improving communication, especially between the "centre" (KL) and the "periphery" (members in general– those "out-there").

We need to be more IT-based and we are going to have on-line registration and renewal of membership starting sometime in the second half of this year.

We will therefore have easier and cheaper means of communication with our members via email, and we hope to convey more information to members in a timely fashion this way.

There is a lot that is being done at various levels, but the information does not filter down to the "doctor on the street", so we need to try to improve this.

For me personally, I would like to be able to get to know better what is happening at the branch level, by making regular visits to them, and to offer them whatever support the "centre" can give them. Other presidents and excos have already been doing this, but I will be putting a lot of time and energy into making these connections (work).

Apart from that, I would like MMA to continue to engage with the MOH on issues affecting health and healthcare in this country, to continue to be the voice of the medical profession.

Dr Quek has had a significant media presence during his tenure and I would like to be able to continue this. There are many issues to address, not just on healthcare reforms, but also more immediate issues like infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, the large numbers of doctors being "produced" in Malaysia and overseas, the training of our young doctors, and environmental health issues, to name a few.

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